Wednesday 24 December 2008

Balham Closures

It's very sad to see more restaurants and cafes perish in Balham. The latest victims are Nanglo...

Nanglo Closing

and Brew...

Brew closing

In the past we've seen Tabaq become Brasserie James and Raviolo metamrphose into Cattle Grid. So let's hope that the latest closures act as the springboard for another restaurant's success. Having said that I am sure that the first few months of next year are going to be hell for anyone running an average restaurant.

Fingers crossed we're in for another brilliant restaurant for Balham!

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Tomoe is really very good

Thanks to An American in London (aAiL) and Londonelicious for fiercely recommending Tomoe on Marylebone Lane. Cowie and I went there today for our Christmas lunch before heading home to our separate families for the festive period.

Everything they both said was spot on...

Cowie was worried it was going to be empty, so we were delighted to be welcomed into the warm atmosphere, buzzing with a mixture of Japanese diners and westerners. From our perch at the bar we sipped on a perfect cup of tea whist formulating a plan of attack. The miso soup that followed the tea was great. I love watching the cloudy broth as it billows carelessly...

We followed some recommendations from aAiL which started with a chirashi sushi bowl. What struck us first were the colours. Vibrant. A chorus of freshness.

Chirashi Sushi Bowl

It goes without saying that the fish was immaculately fresh and the rice was perfectly at room temperature. Succulent tuna, bright orange salmon and sweet gorgeous eel. I could barely keep Cowie's chopsticks out of my bowl.

Our assorted sashimi was impressive too. Very fresh and generous for £10.

Assorted Sashimi

Dynamite sushi rolls were pretty fierce. The first one I had was warm. So Cowie thought things were safe and tucked in. Tears started streaming. Sweat rolled. Water was gasped for. It turns out that the first one that I had was very tame as the rest were "scorchio". I guess it's a bit like the Spanish "Russia Roulette" peppers.

Dynamite Rolls

Tempura prawn maki rolls were fantastic. They were all about texture. The cucumber crunched and the avocado squidged. The prawn was sweet and the tempura was every so slightly crispy. I am going to order every time I see them from now on!

Tempura Prawn Maki Rolls

We loved our lunch and are planning to return again with some sushi virgins. It feels like the kind of place to induct newbies to the world of sushi because it is reasonably priced and very good quality. Thanks Londonelicious and An American in London for the recommendation.

Tomoe on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at Gazette in Balham

We're both big fans of Gazette. We've had many great experiences and forgive them their French brusqueness. We're lucky to have such a fun brasserie near by.

I have long been a fan of blackboards. I love the palimpsest effect that chalk leaves on the board. So when I found that Gazette now has slate table tops and little mugs of chalk I got very excited. For the rest of the review see below in black board format.


Our waitress recommended les ouef en cocotte which arrived in a cast iron saucepan with cherry tomato compote (I almost wrote compost) and dried basil. Fantastically generous portion of 3 eggs. It was so much fun digging into a saucepan. I guess this use of eclectic, rustic serving vessels is Gazette's trademark.

Cowie loved her madeline's. She always does. Drenched in honey they are stunningly hot and fresh. Springy and naughty.

It's pretty rare that I enjoy bills... but this one was great. It was as if the policeman from 'Allo 'Allo had written it - with our freshly squeezed orange juice reading as freshly squizzed. Genius.


Gazette have a policy of offering reviewers a free drink... so we left them with some Paunch graffiti so they would remember our free drink for next time!


Friday 19 December 2008

Kimber's Steak on the Fire

Cowie has raved about how she grew up cooking mammoth steaks on their family's open fire... Given that Agas are terrible for cooking steak properly, this is a great idea for many country houses. Steaks cooked on our Aga tend to go from being raw to grey - somehow they completely bypass the lovely medium rare stage that is the Holy Grail of the edible bovine world.

I've been badgering Cowie to have "fire cooked steaks" for months now. And finally she gave in! Success... It just goes to show that nagging isn't just for girls. It works on them too. It just takes patience. I had to set a weekly alarm to go off just to be safe.

So off we went to Kimber's farm shop for a special trip... It's one of the joys of spending the weekend in Somerset. To break free from London and indulge in life as it should be. We parked in the farm yard and breathed in the deep, sweet, intoxicating smell of cowshit. It's without doubt one of Cowie's favourite smells. And is the hallmark of a top quality purveyor of meat. Maybe Moens and Dove's should start pumping out pooey smells to attract customers like supermarkets do with the smell of bread.

All of Kimber's meat is of the highest quality. I couldn't help myself from touching everything. I stroked a turkey and almost cuddled a bristly pork belly. My eyes were transfixed by the way that geese have naturally pre-scored skin that is geometrically perfect. Their duck breasts were vast - about the size of my face. Duck hearts, pig's tongues, liver, kidneys, snouts and trotters were proudly on display next to prime cuts of meat. Tamsyn (Cowie's mum) and I got very excited about their faggots... which are made from lungs, kidney, heart and liver. They've tried making them without lungs in the past but they are too dense. You need the lungs to add the lightness that makes faggots so special. Cowie wasn't so impressed by the faggots - in fact her reaction of "they're full of all the rubbish bits" almost got us thrown out of the shop!

Mrs Kimber is a fantastic meat expert. The previous week she had been to a meat show at Smithfields to exhibit a huge rib of beef and a dressed turkey. The trade reaction had been so overwhelmingly good that a Frenchman had bought the beef to take home to France... higher praise than this is hard to find! I guess that's why the Frogs call us Les Rosbeefs.

Talking of beef... after we had finished ogling all of the meat in Kimber's store we picked up a couple of giant rump steaks paid up. As Mrs Kimber was settling the bill we started talking about turkeys. This Christmas they are due to sell around 1,000 birds.. which seems pretty impressive to me. Just as she was telling us how they are all grown on site and killed in the barn I looked out of the window to see that it had suddenly started snowing... but in fact the whole farm was being treated to turkey feather snow storm!

Cowie's dad took control of the steak. Salt, pepper and oil did the job. We sandwiched the meat between a toasting wire and balanced it on the scorchingly hot embers of the dining room fire...


St fire

4 minutes on each side and the same for resting yielded a perfectly scorched and rare steak. All the meaty, fleshy smells are extracted by the chimney. So it is not only cheap on fuel but also great for stopping the house from smelling of burning meat. I'm not going to have my steak cooked any other way from now on!

Paul & Ruth Kimber
Higher Stavordale Farm
Barrow Lane
Charlton Musgrove

Tel: 01963 33177

At the Chapel (non review)

“It’s like a cross between Babington House and a lovely gastro-pub”

Bruton, Cowie's home town in Somerset, has sadly lost Bruton House. Gone to restaurant heaven whilst the owners go on a well earned holiday. In the Cowie household it was much revered as the smartest place in the area. But I never got a chance to give it a bash. I was invited for dinner with Cowie's granny once but it clashed savagely with the Rugby World Cup final. Cowie raved about it to the extent that I feel terrible to have missed out. Regrets.

But, sleepy old Bruton has been blessed with a surprisingly sexy alternative. At The Chapel is a charming, slick, contemporary beacon in the countryside. It has the look and feel of St John, with the pared down, very minimal black text on white approach. It's owned by Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki, who are residents of Bruton. In fact it seems the 17th century Methodist Chapel that the restaurant is housed in used to be their home! Catherine used to own Cafe Med and is backed up in the kitchen by Nick Brodie, who has come from, double Michelin starred, Bath Spa.

The set up includes a bakery and pizza oven, winestore, bar, cafe and restaurant. But it is the enormous oven that sets the rhythm of the venture. The architects, MacKenzie Wheeler, have brilliantly used the vast oven to create a warm, living, heart for the restaurant. Every night from 11pm till 4am their baker (who has been dubbed "French hip-hop baker Tito"), works his magic to produce some fantastic bread, most of it from sourdough starter. And then the oven is handed over to the pastry chef and then when it becomes day time the pizza guys take over. The nutty sourdough loaf we took home for lunch was sensational. It had that crusty outside and elastically fluffy centre that top class bread exudes. As well as a warm, natural smell.

Our chocolate brownie was so good that I ate all of it without giving Cowie a morsel. This didn't go down too well. And the only way out of the disaster was to tell Cowie that it wasn't as good as the brownies that she makes! Sorry Tito.

Chapel brownies

I also gave their winestore a bit of a test drive. I was after something pretty special to go with a fine piece of steak we had bought from Kimber's fantastic farm shop. Their wine chap (who I think was Matthew Hooberman - formerly of Soho House) gave me some very shrewd advice. He walked me through some classic French options but could sense that I wanted to be a bit more adventurous. He then presented me with a bottle of Italian red that's made from 5 grape varieties from Calabria. He mentioned that it is so unusual that he makes a point of talking to anyone who orders it in the restaurant. This had me hook line and sinker. And rightly so... it was the perfect match for our steak.


At The Chapel is such a find. Cowie and I are looking forward to trying it out properly. If their bread, brownies and red wine are anything to go for, we are in for a treat. I'm really surprised that there haven't been any national reviews yet. All in good time.

For more information read Fiona Sims article from Caterer and Hotel Keeper.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Chinese Slow Roasted Pork

Take a large and inexpensive lump of pre-scored pork belly from Brixton market. Cover it in salt and five spice. Wedge pieces of star anise and cinnamon bark into the seams of fat. Trim off nipples. Then roast in a seriously hot oven until the skin has started to become slightly crispy.

Turn down the heat to around 170'c and manoeuvre loads of ginger, a couple of chillies cleaved in half and a few cloves of garlic so that they raise the meat up from the base of roasting tin. This lets some of the fat render out. Roast gently for an hour.

Chinese roast pork belly mid roast

Pour off the oozing fat and replace with an unhealthy glug of soy and some sake. Add more ginger, star anise and cinnamon. Return to oven and slow roast for 3 hours, topping up liquid when needed with rehydrated mushrooms and resultant stock.

Remove meat and place on a wire rack on a baking tray. Add more salt to the skin. Place under grill and give it a final whack of heat to crisp the skin up so it blisters.

Slow roast chinese pork belly

Pour off the dark, juice into a sauce pan and add mirin, sake and rice vinegar. Reduce violently until it is sticky.

Chinese roast pork belly

Meanwhile boil some rice noodles and steam some lettuce. Remove, pork from oven and hack in half. Combine all elements and serve to your ravenous housemate. Simple, cheap and seriously tasty.

Pork belly in a bowl

The Providores - with Douglas from Intoxicated Prose

Douglas and I met at a Trusted Places meet up this autumn and drunkenly (on my part) arranged to meet for dinner. We decided that we should find somewhere unusual. Nothing classic. Nothing too safe. Something with an edge. Ideas such as Archipelago, Saf and a few obscure places out of town were pinged back and forwards via email. Until we decided upon The Providores. We both share the view that food in London is a bit too reserved. There aren’t that many chefs who are exploring new ground (feel free to disagree and suggest counters to this assertion.)

The Providores is located on Marylebone High Street, just around the corner from my office. Many of my colleagues have dined there and have all been very verbose with their praise – possibly because they are pickled in Sauvignon Blanc. However, no one is ever very articulate about the food itself.

That’s probably because Peter Gordon’s food is a crazy deluge of “global fusion”. Picking and choosing the best bits from around the world and seamlessly threading them together into combinations you’d never even heard of let alone considered. Simply understanding what you’ve read on the menu is a challenge. It is also somewhere that typically is reserved for expense accounts. It turned out to be the most expensive meal I’ve paid for, per head, ever. And that includes El Bulli. It is no coincidence, I suspect that Google’s algorithms have placed an advert for a second mortgage on The Providores review page on London Eating.

Putting the cost and menu to one side, like some sort of mistress being wooed by a French prince… what was it like?
I was expecting food that took me out of my comfort zone. Dishes that made me think about what I was eating. Wines that were almost a meal in themselves. The sort of overall experience that two passionate food lovers could spend 4 hours debating.

Did it live up to this promise? Without doubt. It was a fascinating meal. The service was faultless and attentive and we had the best table. Was the food perfect? Not quite – my halibut was overcooked and the dessert was too large. Was the wine up to scratch? You’ll have to seek a professional opinion from Douglas. But from my point of view it was up there with the wine pairings I had at Roussillon.

Feeling somewhat bamboozled by the menu, and keen to see what the kitchen was made of we asked our splendid waitress to simply send out what they thought was best - and where possible to select an appropriate wine to match each dish.

One of the great features about The Providores is their fascinating New Zealand based wine list. The have an astonishing array of NZ wines by the glass made possible by their clever argon gas preservation system. (nerd alert). Personally, it was a whirlwind education for me. I obviously knew that there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (mainly from Tim Atkins)… but I was blown away by the range of wines that we were served. A fine pinot gris, refreshing fizzy Cloudy Bay, a spritely riesling, an aromatic gevurtztraminer, a robust chardonnay and some top class pinot noir. And these were just the wines in my glass - I’m feeling quite giddy when I realise how much wine I drank! See Douglas’s review for a full run down of the wines.

The menu read, although devoid of fluffy adjectives, like poetry. Rather than drone on in detail about the food, here are some highlights from the 12 dishes we had (you may need wikipedia handy – we wish we had).

Tamarind, green peppercorn and coconut laksa with squid, a panko crusted crab dumpling, green tea noodles, crispy shallots, coriander and crab tomalley

A great dish to start with. Awesome squid. Probably the best I’ve had. Soft and artistically prepared so that it fanned out like a star. No need for so many green tea noodles which were a fun colour but this would have been better without them.

Crispy soft-shell crab on ginger and wasabi tobikko arancini with pickle papaya and carrot salad with Nam Jihm dressing

What a dish. The crab was stunning. Another triumph. Light, crispy, bursting with unexpected flavours… wasabi added depth and punch. I’d happily eat this all day long. Great with the gevurtztraminer.

Tandori spiced squab pigeon on ginger ale braised cabbage with black trompette jus, banana raita and sumac lavosh

Another great dish. Beautifully tender pigeon with an aromatic char-y coating. Top class. Pigeon is one of my favourites and this is up there with London’s classic dishes. Niamh wouldn’t let me not have this one!

Crispy roast Middlewhite pork belly on Kim chi with wood ear mushroom, pickled quails egg and anise Sichuan broth

The special one. I have had many average pieces of pork belly over the years – this one reinforced just how mediocre they were. The crackling almost perforated my ear drums and brought a deep seated smile to my face as the moist flesh simply yielded. In it’s own right the pork was perfect, but in the context of this savoury, sour, spicy and salty dish it added the sweet aspect that the mouth craves. This was another exploration of depth.

Fennel pana cotta with dashi jelly, tataki of line caught Yellow fin tuna, sweet nori puree, braised shitake mushroom, crispy curry leaves and soy tapioca

Wow. Completely out of left field. A fascinating collision of textures. Creamy, savoury panna cotta… deep umami mushrooms, dashi and nori. Far too much for me to understand.

But that’s why I liked it and the meal as a whole. Not because I found it delicious (which it was), but because it was a challenging piece of creativity. Collectors don’t buy art because they think the pictures are pretty. They do so because they connect with the idea the artist is trying to convey. Given that language is a relatively poor conductor of meaning, often art, in its many forms, including in this instance cooking, does a better job of communicating feelings and ideas. Hence the intellectual attraction of Rothko, Beethoven and Kandinsky. And I think it is in this context that we should appreciate Peter Gordon’s art. He is pushing the boundaries of food in London, whilst the rest of the restaurant landscape is delicious, but a bit unimaginative.

Aside from the food, the highlight was Douglas’s company- you can read his erudite review here. He’s an amazing chap with an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine and a genuine epicurean thirst for new culinary experiences. I’m looking forward to pushing our culinary boundaries even further with our next adventure in the New Year.

Providores on Urbanspoon

Sandwichist - Festive Turkey Bap at Fuzzy's Grub

Fuzzy sign

As part of my ongoing quest to find London's best sandwich since sliced bread for the Londonist, I ventured with Helen from Food Strories to Fuzzy's Grub. Given that we are now in December, this month's theme was all about turkey and Christmas.

Loads of my friends who work in and around the city rave about Fuzzy's... their main selling point is their unique ability to squeeze and entire roast dinner into a heaving bap. It was great to share the experience with Helen, who is also writing a series about sandwiches. Whilst we enjoyed the challenge of such a massive sandwich... it was more a triumph of engineering than cooking. I was very impressed by their gravity defying sandwich construction... and complete disregard for people who are shy about carbs. Anyone who puts roast potatoes and yorkshire puddings in a sandwich deserves respect in my book - even if the resulting sandwich is almost inedible!

Fill her up

Roast turkey sandiwch 2

The after-effects of the sandwich transported me immediately to that post roast feeling, where you are slouching on the couch, feeling flushed and snoozy trying to find an alternative to the Queen's speech on the telly. Lethargy, wind and an uncomfortable bloated feeling linked the two experiences.

Helen gave the sandwich a 4 out of 10. This is based on taste and some very rigorous sandwich criteria. I'm looking forward to seeing how Helen's excellent project develops and to future sandwich expeditions together...

But my rating isn't on a number system. I simply decide whether the sandwich is on brief. And if this brief was, find an iconic Christmas sandwich... I think Fuzzy's roast turkey sandwich, whilst dry, hard to eat and bland is a perfect "sanwichisation" of Christmas lunch. You wouldn't want it to be light and fluffy now would you.

For my Sandwichist review of Fuzzy's Grub click here and for the whole Sandwichist series click here.

My next theme will be about holding back - I want to find the best value sandwich in London for the January post. So far the guys on Chowhound have had some good ideas... but if anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment below.

A Very Wild Caper, Brixton

Brixton is blessed. Not only have Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo opened the best pizza palace in London in Brixton, but they have also brought joy to the heart of South London with a fantastic little organic café/deli called Wild Caper.

Feeling peckish, I went for a walk through Brixton Market and found myself marveling at how busy Franco Manca was. A friendly crowd gorged themselves on heavenly pizza and glasses of yellow lemon syrup. It took all my mental strength to resist settling down and ordering a spot of lunch.

A sign for the Brixton Fish Market dragged me further into the alleyway, luring me towards some interesting little stalls and shops. I walked past an intriguingly anonymous café and had a double take. Something about it had caught my attention. And I haven’t got a clue what it was. See for yourself…

Inside I was greeted with impeccable organic produce and charming staff. The first thing I spotted were some lovely chanterelle mushrooms, that Rosie from the café around the corner has mentioned on her café’s blog. Then my attention was caught by the organic wine selection. I busily checked my change and worked out how much pocket money I had to spend! I selected an organic bottle of red wine called Diogene which is the house red at Franco Manca down the street. It should make a good impromptu Christmas present.

Then I found my left hand had grabbed a pack of brown paper with the number 2.70 cryptically written in black marker pen. I looked down at the label and realized that I had grabbed hold of a pack of organic garlic, fennel and pork sausages. Lunch. It was strange because I had no control over my hands at all. It was like I was being controlled by someone else with a remote control. My next movement was to lunge towards the small bread counter. The assistant explained that all their bread is baked from organic sourdough in Franco Manca’s pizza ovens up the alleyway. I plucked a baguette from the stand and paid up.

It’s a very curious shop. It’s the dimensions of a medium sized bedroom and was staffed by 3 or 4 people despite me being the only customer. It has been in existence for 2 months and boasts an olive oil urn, some fantastic fresh herbs, organic veg, an interesting organic wine collection, proper spices and salt, amazing sourdough bread, a small café serving soup and home made pasta from their pasta counter and a small but top quality range of fresh organic produce. Apparently they also serve very good Monmouth coffee.

I took my goodies home and made THE BEST EVER sausage sandwich for lunch. I’m not going to patronise/bore anyone with how I cooked it etc. but this is what it looked like.

Sausages bread and wine

Sausage and Bread - Wild Caper

Sausage and bread

I wasn’t really prepared to have a sausage epiphany. But I guess you have them when you are least expecting them. This was no ordinary sausage. Somewhere, in the ozone above Greece, in the depths of Plato’s Platonic forms, sits a sausage. And it should be ashamed of itself because it is an impostor. The truly perfect sausage is to be found at Wild Caper. Inside the casing hid bite sized chunks of beautifully tender pork, accompanied by slithers of garlic and hints of fennel seed. The bread was tangy, smelling slightly of hay – the texture was ideal for a posh hot dog. I am gobsmacked and greedily keen for a return visit.

The return visit didn’t take too long. I returned the next day, drawn in by an enormous magnet. I was in desparate need of lunch. Unfortunately, they had run out of soup, so I opted for some pasta, sauce and some olives to take back home. It may sound quite humble. But it was sensational.

I got chatting to a South African lady who I think was Bridget who explained the vision behind the business. My googling of Bridget has thrown up lots of interesting leads – it seems she is a singer, artist, activist and restaurateur – either she is like a modern Leonardo Da Vinci or there’s more than one South African “Bridget Hugo” in Brixton. Her passion and generosity were tangible. I was offered a chunk of amazing nougat to make amends for the lack of soup. I raved about their sausages – proclaiming them to be the best I have ever have. They were horrified that I had roasted my sausage rather than poached it like I should have!

And then Guiseppe Mascoli arrived wielding a pepperoni pizza from Franco Manca and very kindly handed me a slice. I could have stayed there all afternoon, chatting and eating gorgeous freebies. But I had my pasta and sauce to attend to.

My penne pasta with tomato sauce could not have been more simple or more perfect. I found myself drinking the left over cold, sauce straight from the container. Seriously good. Would make a perfect Bloody Mary.

Wild caper kit

Wild Caper penne

Wild caper olives

Penne with tomato sauce cooking

Penne with tomato sauce

It seems that Wild Caper has already caused quite a stir - on Urban Path there is a 5 page thread debating the merits and downsides of Wild Caper. In fact some of it is pretty heated. I won't even attempt to paraphrase it here - just read the banter for yourself! It cuts to the very core of Brixton's yuppification. One of the main criticisms is Wild Caper's high prices - but I happen to think that it is very good value when you consider the quality of the produce. It's best I've found in Brixton so far.

Thank you Giuseppe Mascoli and Bridget Hugo. I can’t wait to see how Wild Caper evolves and to see what you pull out of your hat next.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Graze - Nature Delivered


Having been sent a promo code by a friend from work for Graze I couldn't really say no. So I signed up for a free first box / half price second box. You can sign up for the same offer by tapping in this code in the right box - 6BK6HZY.

Essentially Graze is a service that delivers natural, healthy, snacks to your desk - in a range of formats. (Right up Cowie's street I thought.) From the moment I logged onto the site I was impressed. It's slick, with high production values and very impressive photography of a wide range of foodie nibbles. You are encouraged to choose your preference of healthy snacks to be delivered using a similar engine to Love Film. I ticked a few boxes at random and waited for the outcome. Cowie was far more judicious and no doubt will reap the rewards.


2 days later I was pleasantly surprised when a very smart brown cardboard box arrived with my goodies inside. All the girls in the office gathered round to see what was inside my Pandora's box. My first parcel contained several juicy slices of pineapple, a handful of black pepper cashews and some black olive focaccia. The pineapple was delicious and put me in a very healthy mood. And the girls all loved the cashews. The bread was a bit flaccid but the olives concealed within it were tasty and of higher quality than you normally encounter.

I am looking forward to my second box arriving tomorrow. But will I continue my subscription? To be honest, I won't. It's not for me because I don't like the idea of being bound into an expensive routine. But that's just me. The quality of the food is high. The service itself is first class. And the introductory offer is hard to say no to.

The brains behind Graze have done a great job with the consumer experience... maybe they could take things a step further with a blogger relationship programme?

Fishy Supper

Gilly loves fish. We tend to meet up for dinner once a month and it just seemed like a good idea to cook at home rather than splurge in a restaurant. Last month for instance we went to Zayna and had a fantastic Pakistani meal and the previous month we went to Silk which was good but very quiet.

Inspired by the passion fruit ceviche we had in India...

Passion fruit ceviche

... we decided to replicate it with good old fashioned English trout. Simply chop up 2 trout fillets and marinate in lime juice, coriander, passion fruit and chili to taste. Leave for 20-30 minutes and then spoon back into the empty passion fruit shells for an effortlessly exotic treat. It's a much more interesting version of the standard ceviche with the added benefit of it looking very sexy.

Trout and passionfruit ceviche

We followed this up with a very simple but delicious smoked haddock and prawn risotto - served with a goats cheese and roasted tomato salad. Simply make a standard white risotto with some good white wine and even better rice and stock. Meanwhile poach your smoked haddock fillets in skimmed milk laced with bay, pepper corns and mace and cook until the fish starts to flake. This photo below is one of my favourite cooking photos... I just love the colours. It's like an accidental work of art.

Poaching smoked haddock 2

Then stir in some frozen peas, spinach leavees and flake in two thirds of the fish and a good handful of frozen prawns. Cook until the frozen elements are no longer hazardous. Stir in a slurp of the mily fish liquor to lubricate and then serve with a garnish of chives, parsley and the remaining fish. To lift the dish to a new level, grate some lemon zest into a few tablespoons of creme fraiche and serve as a condiment - it lightens the risotto and adds some zing which compliments the smoky fish.

Smoked haddock risotto


We finished off with some roasted apricots, steeped in Courvoisier and crumbled with Amaretti biscuits which were far too tasty for something so simple. Unfortunately, because they were so delicious I didn't get a chance to take a photo, so you'll just have to use your imagination. All in all it was a raging success. The journey from sharp and sweet trout ceviche to creamy riotto, back to sweet and sharp again was fantasitc.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Oh Cutlery Drawers (OCD)

There are few things in life more annoying than the dangerous mis-use of cutlery drawers. Who in their right mind puts knives on the left, forks on the right and spoons in the middle!? Madness. Surely you lay the drawer out as if it was a place setting. Fork on the left. Then knife to the right and spoons on the far right.

I hate it when I reach into the cutlery drawer to grab a spoon to remove my tea bag and am lacerated by a steak knife. It looks like I've decided to indulge in a spot of casual self harm. It's a bit like deciding that you are bored of driving on the left and recklessly veering across the central reservation and ploughing into oncoming traffic for a laugh.

If I was Prime Minister I'd make this my number one priority and the world would become a safer place.

Rant over.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Franco Manca

I took the rare opportunity of a day off in Brixton to sample the pizza at Franco Manca. After an in depth article in OFM a couple of months ago, the internet has been awash with chatter about this place. And I felt like it was my duty as a Brixton resident and foodie to see what all the fuss is about.

Foolishly I forgot to take a note of the address, assuming that it must be easy to find. But I found myself walking back and forth along Electric Avenue, dodging the market vendors, trying desperately to find this "hidden gem". It always helps of course if you are actually on the right road. A quick call to 118500 and I was back on track. I was put through to Franco Manca who then guided me into the restaurant which was about 18 yards from where I was standing. The charming chap on the phone even spotted me and came to greet me. Top class service from beginning to end.

Snuggled into the heart of Brixton Market, remember, if you can, that it's Unit 4, Electric Lane. The restaurant bridges both sides of the covered market alleyway which adds a great natural flow to environment. On either side are large pizza ovens that have been hand build over in Naples. They generate a temperature of 500'C which is the key to their sourdough pizzas having such a crispy crust and soft middle. I inspected them with great interest, taking notes for next year's big project where I am planning to build an outdoor earth oven in the garden. Should be epic. If anyone's got any advice, I'd love to hear from you.

I ordered the chorizo pizza which comes with dry and wet sausage from Brindisa. It arrived almost as soon as I had spoken. Given all the hype, I was determined not to be prejudiced and was hoping it would live up to all the noise. And it did. As promised it was gorgeously charred on the outside, with the appearance of tiger bread whilst the mozzarella, tomato and chorizo was perfectly cooked as well. The puffy crust was crisp on the outside and pillowy soft inside. A bit like a savoury, hot macaron!

The chorizo had a lick of char and otherwise was simply irresistible. I was tempted to add pepper and chilli oil but didn't want to tamper with something that had been thought through so clearly. The mozzarella made almost made me giggle as it unwound as I tried to eat it like some sort of practical joke. All this fatty, carby goodness was washed down by a jar of their delicious home made lemonade followed the best espresso I've ever had for £1!

All the ingredients are impeccably sourced with superb credentials. But the crowning glory is the sourdough base that takes 20 hours of careful nurturing before it meets its glorious fate in the super charged ovens.

I was amused when two gentlemen in suits arrived and loudly asked "are you the guys who make the best pizza in London". I felt like I stood out pretty badly in my brown cords and blue v-neck jumper, but I was a chameleon by comparison. It seems that word has spread and that this gem is fast becoming a lot less hidden.

Be warned that Franco Manca is only open on week days from 12-5. My pizza, lemonade and coffee came to well under a tenner.

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Butternut Squash and Goat's Cheese Risotto with Harissa Sausages

Feeling a bit creative at the weekend after the macaron class, I decided to create something fun and seriously savoury to counteract the mega sugar hit from the macarons.

I made a very straight forward risotto with a shallot and lardon base and a "stock" improvised from anchovy essence, mushroom ketchup, soy sauce and boiling water. Whilst I was stirring the rice, the butternut squash was roasting in a coat of olive oil and salt and a couple of cloves of garlic with their jackets on.

In an adjacent tray my sausages were sizzling in a rose harissa glaze. Crisping up and emitting a spicy, Middle Eastern aroma.

I'm not going to go into the details of cooking sausages and a risotto! So you'll just have to take my word for it that the combination worked brilliantly. Especially with a watercress and radicchio side salad dressed with a touch of balsamic vinegar. I can seriously recommend smearing sausages in harissa paste. It works like a dream

Butternut squash risotto with harissa sausages

Butternut squash risotto

Just the sort of spicy, meaty, sauvory antidote I needed given my massive macaron induced blood sugar spike.

Off to Kerala, India

Back in 2 weeks with loads of stories, a flatter tummy, sun kissed skin, gorgeous photos and a whole new palette.

Photo from Marco Bellucci.

L'Aletiers des Chefs Macaron Class with Trusted Places

Good old Trusted Places. Not only is their site brilliant, but they also look after their bloggers as if they are family. Niamh, the TP community manager, who also writes the fantastic Eat Like a Girl blog, organised an afternoon of macaron making at L'Atelier des Chefs on Wigmore Street.

Latelier des chefs

I must confess I had to lie to most of my friends about what I was doing... it was only on Friday evening that the penny dropped that the macaron class clashed with the England vs Australia rugby match. Whoops. My house mate found out and I suspect it is going to take some time before I'm allowed to live it down! Not only is he now doubting my sexuality, but a bunch of the great food bloggers I met thought that Cowie is a man!!! I can assure you all that Cowie is very much a girl!

Gaggle of food bloggers

So a whole bunch of keeno food bloggers (me included) rocked up on Saturday afternoon to get stuck in. I was in a cracking team of 4 tasked with making foie gras macarons died with squid ink. Rather than tell you how to do it, just have a look at the pictures below.

Squid ink macaron

Foie grois macaron

There was something very amusing about the environment with around 2,000 pictures being taken! You can see from the picture below that it wasn't your normal cooking environment!

Pressure cooking

Here's some of the photographic highlights...


Red macaron

Green macaron blob


Rose and raspberry macaron

Mmm Green macaron

Caramel macaron

It was great to meet such fun and passionate people. For instance I had a fascinating chat with Shuna about bread, sandwiches, The French Laundry and sourdough... who you can see masterfully piping the scarlet macarons below

Shuna piping

Here's a round up of the team - it was great to meet you all. I can't wait to do something fun as a group again. Food blogging is a funny old thing. It's great to meet so many like minded souls.

World Foodie Guide
Eat Like a Girl
Hollow Legs
Cooking the Books
An American in London
Food Rambler
London Eater
Food Flunky
The Princess and the Recipe
Food by Mark
Tamarind and Thyme
Trusted Places Blog


So a massive thank you to Trusted Places... and specifically to Niamh. You're a star.

Laura filming

And to Laura for being the chief videographer.

Head chef

And also to L'Ateliers des Chefs which offers a great experience. I can't wait to return for more fun and games.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin